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The Origin of Utility

  • De Fraja, Gianni

This paper proposes an explanation for the universal human desire for increasing consumption. It holds that it was moulded in evolutionary times by a mechanism known to biologists as sexual selection, whereby a certain trait - observable consumption - is used by members of one sex to signal their unobservable characteristics valuable to members of the opposite sex. It then goes on to show that the standard economics problem of utility maximisation is formally equivalent to the standard biology problem of the maximisation of individual fitness, the ability to pass genes to future generations.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 5859.

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Date of creation: Oct 2006
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:5859
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  1. Bisin, Alberto & Verdier, Thierry, 2001. "The Economics of Cultural Transmission and the Dynamics of Preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 298-319, April.
  2. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521337465 is not listed on IDEAS
  3. Armen A. Alchian, 1950. "Uncertainty, Evolution, and Economic Theory," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58, pages 211.
  4. Arthur J. Robson, 1995. "The Evolution of Strategic Behaviour," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 28(1), pages 17-41, February.
  5. Ted Bergstrom, . "On the Evolution of Altruistic Ethical Rules for Siblings," Papers _023, University of Michigan, Department of Economics.
  6. Wärneryd, Karl, 2001. "Rent, risk, and replication: preference adaptation in winner-take-all markets
    [Rente, Risiko und Replikation – Präferenz- Anpassung in „Der-Sieger-bekommt-alles“ Märkten]
    ," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Market Processes and Governance FS IV 01-10, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
  7. Corneo, Giacomo & Jeanne, Olivier, 1997. "Conspicuous consumption, snobbism and conformism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 55-71, October.
  8. Galor, Oded & Moav, Omer, 2000. "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth," Arbetsrapport 2000:5, Institute for Futures Studies.
  9. Postlewaite, Andrew, 1998. "The social basis of interdependent preferences," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(3-5), pages 779-800, May.
  10. Horan, Richard D. & Bulte, Erwin & Shogren, Jason F., 2005. "How trade saved humanity from biological exclusion: an economic theory of Neanderthal extinction," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 1-29, September.
  11. Dekel, E. & Scotchmer, S., 1999. "On the Evolution of Attitudes Towards Risk in Winner-Take-All Games," Papers 4-99, Tel Aviv.
  12. Trostel, Philip A & Taylor, Grant A, 2001. "A Theory of Time Preference," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(3), pages 379-95, July.
  13. Spence, A Michael, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-74, August.
  14. Avinash K. Dixit & Robert S. Pindyck, 1994. "Investment under Uncertainty," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 5474, April.
  15. Cole, Harold L & Mailath, George J & Postlewaite, Andrew, 1992. "Social Norms, Savings Behavior, and Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(6), pages 1092-1125, December.
  16. Ok, Efe A. & Vega-Redondo, Fernando, 2001. "On the Evolution of Individualistic Preferences: An Incomplete Information Scenario," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 231-254, April.
  17. Hansson, Ingemar & Stuart, Charles, 1990. "Malthusian Selection of Preferences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 529-44, June.
  18. Mukesh Eswaran & Ashok Kotwal, 2004. "A theory of gender differences in parental altruism," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 37(4), pages 918-950, November.
  19. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521331586 is not listed on IDEAS
  20. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  21. Bester, Helmut & Guth, Werner, 1998. "Is altruism evolutionarily stable?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 34(2), pages 193-209, February.
  22. Rogers, Alan R, 1994. "Evolution of Time Preference by Natural Selection," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 460-81, June.
  23. Bagwell, Laurie Simon & Bernheim, B Douglas, 1996. "Veblen Effects in a Theory of Conspicuous Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 349-73, June.
  24. Frank, Robert H, 1987. "If Homo Economicus Could Choose His Own Utility Function, Would He Want One with a Conscience?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 593-604, September.
  25. Becker, Gary S, 1976. "Altruism, Egoism, and Genetic Fitness: Economics and Sociobiology," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 817-26, September.
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